Dr. Becker, right, and Mark Nelson of the World Bank

*Photo Credit: Kyle Cassidy, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Cox Center Research Team Discusses
Uses of Press Freedom Measures

University of Georgia researchers reported at a workshop in Philadelphia in early November that progress in measuring press freedom and related concepts has not been matched by progress in understanding the relationship of press freedom to the broader process of democratization.

Drs. Lee B. Becker and Tudor Vlad, director and assistant director, respectively, of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, joined more than 50 academics, representatives of the media assistance community and others interested in monitoring press freedom around the world in a one-day workshop in Philadelphia in early November.

The Cox Center research team recently published a systematic analysis of press freedom indicators. Drs. Becker and Vlad were asked to give separate presentations on this and related Cox Center work at the conference, organized by the Center for Global Communication Studies of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Vlad summarized the research the Cox Center has done showing that the measures of press freedom developed by Freedom House in New York and Reporters Without Borders in France showed remarkably similar results. “We have shown that these measures are reliable,” he said.

Dr. Becker presented a theoretical model of the impact of media assistance on the development of press freedom and the overall process of democratic change in society.

“The assumptions we make about the relationship between free press indicators and democracy are extremely important,” Dr. Becker said, because those assumptions influence decisions on “what to measure and what to do with what we measure.”

Dr. Vlad was joined in his session on the Uses and Abuses of Press Freedom Indices by Bettina Peters, director of the Global Forum for Media Development, headquartered in London, and Anna Godfrey, research manager with the Research and Learning Group at the BBC World Service Trust, also based in London. The session was moderated by Susan Abbott, senior research coordinator for the Annenberg Center for Global Communication Studies.

Other presenters on the session with Dr. Becker were Dr. Thomas Jacobson from the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University in Philadelphia and Shanthi Kalathil, a consultant with the Development Communication Division of the World Bank in Washington, D.C. Dr. Peter Dahlgren, professor of Media and Communication at Lund University in Sweden, served as moderator of the session, which focused on “What Free Press Indicators Say About Democracy.”

Monroe Price, director of the Center for Global Communication Studies at Annenberg, introduced the workshop and moderated a final wrap-up discussion. The workshop was held on November 5 at the Annenberg School.

Among those attending the workshop were representatives of Freedom House, which developed the first free press indicator in 1967, IREX, which currently publishes a Media Sustainability Index, and Committee to Protect Journalists, which also publishes data on attacks on journalists each year.

Both Drs. Becker and Vlad talked about work the Cox Center has done on the evaluation of media assistance projects as well as domestic journalism training programs.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Drs. Becker and Vlad, with then doctoral student Nancy Nusser, published a report on their analysis of press indicators. The formal citations is: Lee B. Becker, Tudor Vlad and Nancy Nusser (2007). An Evaluation of Press Freedom Indicators, The International Communication Gazette, 69 (1): 5-28.